After 20 Years of Trying Pakistan No Longer Plans to Privatize the World’s Worst Airline

Pakistan International Airlines is the worst airline in the world. Best known for sacrificing a goat for safety and flying with more passengers than seats (and making customers stand for 1700 miles), the airline’s former CEO was actually detained as a result of his efforts to provide good seats and service by wet leasing aircraft from SriLankan.

Boeing 777 on Approach to New York JFK in 2014, Copyright zhukovsky / 123RF Stock Photo

The airline is so bad that even operating on time creates problems: customers build failure into their expectations and don’t actually show up for flights when they’re scheduled to depart.

Here’s a sample from an actual PIA flight.

Pakistan agreed to privatize PIA as a condition of receiving an IMF bailout. However the plan led to employee protests which turned violent in clashes with police involving rubber bullets, water cannons and tear gas.

Both Etihad and Emirates sniffed around the carrier, since the both pick up significant traffic from Pakistan. In addition at least 1.5 million Pakistanis live in Dubai alone.

Now, however, privatization is off the table and not just for PIA. The current government plans to ‘rehabilitate’ 195 state-owned enterprises. And they have a plan to turn PIA profitable that they’re going to release next month. They’ve said they planned to privatize the airline since the late 1990s, now they’re at least being honest that it isn’t going to happen.

It always struck me odd that Delta, American, and United claimed it wasn’t fair that Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar were allowed to fly to the U.S. because they ‘can’t compete against governments.’ And maybe that’s true when your business model targets offering customer service at levels similar to the post office or DMV.

However Pakistan International Airlines is the archetype of what a government-run airline is like. The government has been subsidizing losses for years — totaling billions of dollars — the last time the carrier even claimed to earn a profit (of $16 million) was 2004. Instead it’s been run largely for the benefit of employees, and for politicians, not passengers (something some US carriers may be familiar with).

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary
    I have a feeling chopsticks will not like your last paragraph…..he will have to report you to his drunk boss DoUIg the Porker

  2. Gary,

    You’re clearly running out of material. Time to up your game and start traveling more to find good material to write about.

  3. Interesting, if kind of sad. When employees riot at the prospect of having to do their jobs, it’s a sign that change is more urgently needed, not less.

  4. It’s run for the benefit of the military too.

    The Pakistani military is more powerful than any of the elected or appointed politicians in the country and the Pakistani military directly and indirectly controls a lot of the economic assets of the country. It’s a poor man’s and weaker version of what China’s PLA was for China’s business development.

    About PIA being the world’s worst airline, I doubt that it is. There remain some that are worse than PIA.

    And PIA’s plane lavatories’ space, aisle space and cabin seating space can’t be worse for passengers than what American Airlines is doing increasingly.

  5. Wikipedia says Pakistan International is one the world’s best airlines. Of course, Wikipedia is wacky in that anyone can write anything and Wikipedia administrators have been known to hack into peoples’ computers.

    The part of Pakistan being the best is not in the PIA article. It’s somewhere else. I left it alone. If I correct it, someone may start to pick on me.

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